LAS VEGAS — If there was one criticism of Giga Chikadze during his time in the UFC, it was that he was moved very slowly. Chikadze has a nine-fight winning streak, including seven in the UFC, but Edson Barboza was the first ranked opponent he faced.
Few fighters have the supreme confidence that Chikadze possesses, and he believed from day one in MMA that he was destined to rise to the top.
That’s a lot closer to reality now, as he’s ranked No. 8 at featherweight and will challenge No. 5 Calvin Kattar on Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 46 at Apex.
Despite being called up for a title shot when Max Holloway dropped out of his scheduled fight with champ Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 272 due to injury, Chikadze mostly took what he was given without complaining. .
His coach, Rafael Cordeiro, told Yahoo Sports after Chikadze’s third round at Barboza in August that the reason was simple.
“He likes to fight,” Cordeiro said. ” It’s his passion. Some guys fight because they’re good at it, but it’s not what they really like. Giga loves it. He fought a lot more times than he could because that’s who he is.
The featherweight division is very deep and there are elite contenders above and below Chikadze. A win over Kattar should bump him up a bit, maybe into the top five. Kattar is looking to bounce back from a tough loss to Holloway last year in Abu Dhabi and is ready to get back to winning ways.
Chikadze has immense respect for Kattar but he aims much higher. That’s why he took some photos of Volkanovski in the media as Volkanovski focused on a fight with “The Korean Zombie”, Chan Sung Jung, finalized after Holloway went down.
Chikadze didn’t rip Volkanovski in an interview with Yahoo Sports, but made it clear he’s looking at the top. Beating Kattar will grant him access to fights against the best of the best of the best featherweights.
“I just needed someone to fight in the top five,” Chikadze said. “That’s why I took this fight with Calvin. I have a lot of respect for him for what he has done in this sport. He’s a very strong guy, a very tough guy. But no one was available [above Kattar] for me to fight when I asked. Some of them were injured; some of them were already scheduled for other fights. Calvin Kattar’s name came up and I took that fight with joy because he’s ranked five. This is exactly what I need right now.
Kattar has been fighting professionally in MMA since 2007 and Chikadze has been watching him for a long time. Even before Kattar made it to the UFC, Chikadze was watching him, both to learn from him and as a potential opponent one day.
He said Kattar had always impressed him and even the one-sided loss to Holloway, in which Kattar soaked up a record number of big strikes, didn’t change his opinion.
“Calvin was always throwing bombs [late in that fight]said Chikadze. “Max Holloway is a very tough guy with a good chin and he can take a beating. With someone else, Calvin could have gotten knocked out, even late, because he was throwing bombs.
So Chikadze, whose speed is a huge advantage over most opponents, isn’t expecting a waltz. He likes what he sees of Kattar and thinks he will be desperate to win, which will increase the urgency with which he fights.
Kattar has never been knocked down or knocked out in his long MMA career, so that became a goal for Chikadze. He praised Kattar for his rare power, one of the few guys in the featherweight division with knockout punching power.
Chikadze also has the power, but his unorthodox strikes come with speed and from all angles, making him a tough guy to prepare as few others fight like him.
He’s notched three finishes in a row, but if he finishes Kattar, he’ll herald his arrival among the featherweight elite in a big way.
“Nobody’s ever finished Calvin Kattar,” Chikadze said, smiling ever so slightly. “So let’s see what happens when you face the world karate and kickboxing champion.”